Avoiding the Loss
by David Trotter
I’d been putting it off for days, and it was just nagging at me like a constant tapping between my eyes. Finally, I picked up the phone and began to make the call. “Why does this take so much energy,” I thought. “Why can’t I just do it?
After finally getting through all eleven digits, I get the “death tone” for all phone call procrastinators…the busy signal. After mustering up all the courage and energy needed to make the call, I was denied access to experience the relief of getting beyond this nagging sensation.
The drone of the repetitive busy signal gave me the dreadful time to ponder the call once more. It’s as if God was forcing me to ponder and process what great hurdles there are to making some of the most necessary calls in my life.
After skirting around the issue a few dozen times in my head, I finally raised my eyes long enough to admit that I was avoiding something. Okay, okay, I’m avoiding. “Avoiding really isn’t that bad,” I keep telling myself. Avoidance is simply choosing to focus on something else when I don’t want to focus on what is screaming at me in the face.
What is so weird about the spiral of my avoidance is that although something seems to be screaming at me, I am trying to use every single bit of my emotional energy to steer clear of it. Come on, its not like I haven’t scarfed down a couple of dozen donuts trying to avoid dealing with something. Or, what about that TV watching? – That is my most brilliant tool at wasting just another “30 minutes” until “it” hopefully goes away.
I dial the numbers once again – this time it finally rings.
In a muffled voice, I hear, “Hello…”
”Pa-Pa, is that you? Did I wake you up?”
“No, I’m just not feeling too well.”
In that moment, it felt so good to be with him on the phone, but I knew what I was avoiding.
“Pa-Pa, how are you doing?” I asked.
“Not that good, they think I have some fluid around my heart,” he responded.
After the initial chit-chat of hospital food and how cute the nurses are, my grandfather and I settled in for a talk about black-eyed peas and the sunlight streaming through the window. He told me about how he had just gotten off the phone with his neighbor and how nice she had been to “fix up” some of them dried beans. He talked about those beans in little baggies that had been stowed away in the freezer for his return home and how much he was looking forward to them in the next day or so. Somehow, his attention was shifted to the present – not focusing on the beans – but now focusing on the window. In a slow, Southern accent, he said, “I’ll get about another 3 hours of good sunlight through that window today. I’m really going to enjoy that.”
Beans and sunlight – that’s where he was. Those are the things that he was holding on to in that moment with a sense of appreciation and enjoyment. Despite his somewhat cantankerous demeanor, my heart was captured with the simplicity of his outlook in the midst of a trying time.
My grandfather has been in the hospital twice now in the last month, and that is what I feel like avoiding. I remember the fishy smell of a stingray dropping from his casting net on the pier in Fairhope, Alabama. I remember digging in the dirt in his backyard underneath the fig tree. I remember having my height marked on the molding of the door leading into his garage. But, all those things are gone now…they are all gone. Why can’t things be that simple once again?
I feel nostalgic for those childhood days of family vacations to Pa-Pa’s house…the fishing, the food, the walks by the pier, rummaging through stacks of stuff, hearing the same stories a million times over. But now, it just seems different, and that’s what I’m avoiding. I think I’m avoiding the fact that I no longer have that fun, little kid relationship with him. The one that doesn’t see the pain of life and the pain of a deteriorating body. Now, I see those things, but I don’t really want to.
Having walked this Earth for over 90 years, he is coming to end of his life. It may be 15 years or it may be 15 months. None of us really know. But, that’s what I’m avoiding. Who wants to stare into the face of change and pain – the fact that life doesn’t stand still and we can’t hang on to what “used to be” other than in scrapbooks and wonderful memories.
The fact is, my life has changed and so has his. How can I join him now where he is at on this journey of life? Rather than wishing for what was or what could be, can I just join him in what is? That is what is before me.
I could hear the nurse coming back into his room and seemed like he wanted to let me go. So, we hung up the phone like we do every time.
“I love you Pa-Pa.”
“I love you to baby. You tell your better half ‘hello’.”
You know, life just seems to feel really simple in the beginning and really simple at the end. But during this middle part, it really just seems to get kind of complicated.
David Trotter is Pastor of Communications
and Events at ROCKharbor Church in Costa Mesa, CA. David, his wife, and daughter live in Southern California.